written by: Mary Brown Malouf
photos by: Adam Finkle
I call it—admittedly crudely—culinary racism: The expectation so many Americans have that cuisines from non-Western countries should be cheap. We love one-price, all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffets, two-dollar Mexican street tacos and heaps of Chinese stir-fries, but only at the right price.
We shell out for cassoulet, but balk at paying double digits for a biryani, one of the most complex dishes ever contrived. And our exploration of other culinary cultures is timid; we stick to the dishes we know, usually ones that have been Americanized. To generalize, when it comes to Asian and South American flavors, we stick to chicken on a stick.
Enough with the negativity. Our gastronomic world is being rocked. Because of immigration and travel, the chicken is losing its grip.
The biggest sign of this is the booming interest in Indian food—it was a huge trend nationally in 2017, and 2018 looks to be the year that we free ourselves from prejudice and recognize the huge culinary genius of the subcontinent.
Chefs in non-Indian restaurants are using spices that used to be regarded as ethnic—turmeric, cardamom, cumin and coriander, to name a few—and the menus at Indian restaurants like Kathmandu and Saffron Valley are luring us beyond our curry comfort zone. Dishes like lamb chops with a Chettinad curry served with upma (savory semolina pudding), and cumin tava-roasted vegetables. Upma is India’s answer to Grits, spiced up. It’s showing up as a side in many high-end Indian restaurants and on menus across the world. Or chaat, an Indian street food that uses all 5 flavor components of sweet, spicy, pungent, sour and salty.
Some popular chaat items are Bhel Puri, Dahi Puri and Pani Puri. South Jordan’s Saffron Valley was the first Indian restaurant in Utah to dedicate a whole section of the menu to chaat. Saffron Valley is debuting a new menu this April that includes more chaat items from various regions throughout India.
See more inside our 2018 Mar/Apr Issue.